10 Keys for the Denver Nuggets Down the Stretch
With nine games left to play on their shortened schedule, the Denver Nuggets must work diligently the next few weeks if they want to make the postseason for the ninth straight season.
After drubbing the Warriors 123-84 Monday night, Denver now sits at 31-26 in the eighth spot out West.
Just as in many other recent years, the race in the wild West to make the playoffs is tight, as only 2.5 games separate seeds six through 10.
The Nuggets need to play inspired basketball if they want to win and get in, which would give them valuable experience even if they go one-and-done.
Here's a look at the baby blue and gold's 10 keys down the stretch.
1. Find Leadership
These new-look Nuggets have had their roster changed so many times over the last year, it's possible even they need programs to learn each others' names.
And with so many youthful men, the demand for a leader on the court is blatantly apparent.
This is the time for the third-year point guard Ty Lawson to assert himself as the team's leader, not only by pushing them to run, but by vocally directing traffic and earning respect.
Of course, 14-year veteran Andre Miller can step forward and assume a leadership role as well, which would help Lawson shoulder the burden and would only benefit the team in the end.
2. Run the Court
The Nuggets are one of the most athletic teams in the NBA and on nights they excelerate, they excel.
The Nuggets are the No. 1 fast-breaking team in the league, at 19.6 points per game, and they really run well when Lawson pushes the pace.
Of course, steals lead to transition buckets as well, why Denver must defend.
3. Play Defense
Once again, Denver's defense is nonexistent this year.
The Nuggets are second to last at 102 points per game allowed.
What it means is that the Nuggs have to win shootouts, something they've done with mixed results.
But when it can defend, even just decently, Denver wins more than it loses due to its No. 1 scoring offense.
The Nuggets are also solid in steals (8.2 per) and when they can frustrate opponents' shots too, it bodes well for them.
4. Dominate Down Low
Another strength of the Nuggets is scoring down low, as they lead the league with 51.8 points in the paint per contest.
With Nene, their main post presence gone, the Nuggets need to find others who will step up and score inside.
JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried can do so, but more with alley-oops and tip-ins rather than creating for themselves.
And besides on the offensive end, Denver's bigs will be key on defense as well.
They have to use their height—an advantage for them this year—to change shots and at times, block them too.
And rebounding will be vastly important too, especially for this Denver team that is eighth in the league with 43 per.
5. Drive to the Hoop
Speaking of dominating down low, Denver's offense must go to the hoop.
Too often this season have the Nuggets settled for long jumpers instead of creating off the dribble and getting to the rack.
Shots are simply easier to put in from close up, plus taking the ball in aggressively will usually result in foul calls as well.
6. Work Together
Basketball is the quintessential team game and if the baby blue and gold can't work together, their season is lost.
All the team turnover means adjusting to new styles of play and new attitudes.
It's necessary for the Nuggs to find chemistry to compete with the best in the West and if they can't, they're sunk.
Luckily for them, the players have already embraced one another and Denver is third in the Association with 25.3 dimes dropped per contest.
7. Play Physically
Denver's at its best when it plays a physical brand of basketball, boxing out with strength and fighting for loose balls.
One aspect to playing physical is setting sure screens, getting teammates free for open shots or drives to the hoop. The Nuggets haven't been disciplined most of the season with setting screens, but when they are physical, it benefits the entire offense.
They can play that way too because of their youth and athleticism. It suits them well and they win when they choose to play that way.
Now, can George Karl get them to play physical on a nightly basis?
8. Get Healthy
Simply stated, the Nuggets would certainly be benefited by getting healthy.
Denver's been devastated by injury all season long. Forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are sitting out currently and backup shooting guard Rudy Fernandez is done for the season after back surgery.
The Nuggs are waiting for their top scorers to come back, which will give them a definite boost down the stretch, and help them win close contests.
It will also help with the team chemistry, which hasn't been able to grow because the whole team can't play together.
Both Gallinari—the team's MVP—and Chandler could return any game, meaning the Nuggets will be at full strength down the stretch.
9. Play Consistently
The team from the Mile High City has been up and down with mountain-like peaks and valleys all season. They'll have to be top-notch just to make it into the playoffs, let alone win once they make the postseason.
If the Nuggets can get healthy, which it seems like they will, they should be able to find some consistency.
If the consistency does come, with chemistry and health, the Nuggets will quickly become a dangerous team.
10. Just Win
The Nuggets have to win at all costs as they fight for the eighth and final playoff spot with only nine game remaining on their schedule.
Everything was clicking Monday night, just as it has many times this year, and if the Nuggets can find that consistency, they could upset some teams in the playoffs.
But will they make it?
Will they win once they get in?
That's all part of the fun and drama of the NBA season.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist, Rich is the Denver Broncos and CSU Rams Examiner and Kurtzman also writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey and Mile High Hoops.
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